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Conservative judge relied on now-retracted studies to outlaw mifepristone

Last year, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled against distribution of the abortion pill. Now, a medical journal he cited has retracted studies he used.


When U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk issued his ruling last year banning distribution of mifepristone, a commonly used abortion pill, it seemed fairly clear that the conservative judge had taken a political approach to his decision.

Now, a medical journal has made that even clearer.

Kacsmaryk’s ruling has been put on hold as the Supreme Court prepares to hear an appeal next month, but in the meantime, it’s being exposed for having relied on pseudoscientific conclusions.

On Monday, Sage Publications announced that it was retracting three articles that helped form the basis of Kacsmaryk’s conclusion that access to mifepristone should be restricted:

Two subject matter experts undertook an independent post-publication peer review of the three articles anew. In the 2021 and 2022 articles, which rely on the same dataset, both experts identified fundamental problems with the study design and methodology, unjustified or incorrect factual assumptions, material errors in the authors’ analysis of the data, and misleading presentations of the data that, in their opinions, demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor and invalidate the authors’ conclusions in whole or in part. In the 2019 article, which relies on a different dataset, both experts identified unsupported assumptions and misleading presentations of the findings that, in their opinions, demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor and render the authors’ conclusion unreliable.

Sage found, for example, that with a 2021 study cited by Kacsmaryk, all but one of the eight authors were affiliated with an anti-abortion advocacy organization “despite having declared they had no conflicts of interest.” The investigation also discovered that a peer reviewer who initially reviewed that study had been affiliated with one of those groups — the Charlotte Lozier Institute — as well. (The lead author of the three articles, James Studnicki, told Retraction Watch that the retractions were “a blatant attempt to discredit excellent research which is incongruent with a preferred abortion narrative.”)

Sage’s investigation came about after pharmaceutical sciences professor Chris Adkins notified Sage about potential issues with the studies. He explained to States Newsroom why he had done so, saying:

I have significant concerns about the merits, legality, and use of shoddy studies and personal anecdotes to upend national healthcare policies essential to women’s reproductive health and bodily autonomy. To go out and say this drug needs to be, you know, removed from the market, it’s not honestly paying tribute to what the true science really is saying.

It’s good that Sage ruled that Kacsmaryk’s findings essentially amounted to conservative propaganda. However, none of us can assume the current Supreme Court, packed with anti-abortion justices, will reach the same conclusion.